Reading entertains us, teaches about ourselves and others, transports us in our minds to places we’ve never been and often inspires us to go to those places in the real world. So for many of us, its hard to imagine living in a home without books. It’s especially hard to imagine raising children without the art, imagination, rhyme, and humor of children’s books. But more importantly, reading plays a crucial role in brain development, language skills and many other factors that affect a child’s success in school. Studies show a clear link between low reading skill and poor health throughout life.
That’s why a percentage of holiday season sales of my book (through the end of the year), Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways, will go to a terrific organization, the Children’s Literacy Program at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. The program’s Book Buddy volunteers read to children in doctors’ waiting rooms, and they create bilingual books by inserting translated text into English books. They also put together the Books for Babies packets so that almost every child born at Hennepin County Medical Center is welcomed with a book in their home language. HCMC is also a Reach Out and Read site, part of a national program that makes literacy promotion a standard part of pediatric primary care so children receive books during their doctor visits. Approximately 87 percent of the children served at HCMC are from low-income households and many would not have books at all if not for this program.
It’s not that these parents don’t care about reading. Says HCMC Children’s Literacy Liaison, Lynn Burke, “Our patients’ resources are so limited, books are just not a priority. One parent, with tears in his eyes tried to give a book back because he thought he would have to pay for it and he couldn’t afford it. Our doctors and staff explained that the books we give are always free and belong to the patient, that is, we aren’t loaning books to our families, we are giving books to them.” In fact the program distributes 30,000 children’s books annually.
Burke offers this story from a Book Buddy volunteer: “Yesterday, a 5-year-old was with me for about 90 minutes. He was delightful and bright and curious and very funny. When I got up to leave, I thanked him for reading with me. He replied, ‘You’re welcome. Are you going to miss me?’ I assured him I would and told him I hoped he would have his turn with the doctor soon. He said, “Oh, I saw the doctor a long time ago. I told Papa I wanted to read with you so he’s been waiting to take me home.” That kind man had sat patiently for over 90 minutes AFTER they saw the doctor so his son and I could read.”
One HCMC physician said, “I see families eager to bring in kids for their well visits since they know the kids will also get a book and that we will talk with them about what we see in their child’s development while we interact over the book. I see sibs asking, “Can I bring home a book, too?” and we find them one of our stash of gently used books that docs bring in from home, thrift shops, and the hospital’s warehouse of gently used books. I’ve seen parents that were not getting their kids in for regular vaccinations or well visits start coming regularly to their scheduled well visits because there is something to look forward to: to learn about, to improve their child’s life and education, to be involved (especially as Spanish-speaking parents) with reading to their child from a book in their OWN language. It’s so exciting.”
That’s why I got so fired up about the Children’s Literacy Program and decided give give a portion of sales to the group. So if you’re looking for last minute Christmas gifts, Off the Beaten Page is available from Amazon and barnesaandnoble.com You’ll also be giving the gift of children’s literacy. You can read more about the HCMC program and learn how to contribute time, talent or treasure at www.hcmc.org/read. Storage space is limited, so please contact Children’s Literacy Liaison Lynne Burke if you are interested in making an in-kind donation.